#PutinAtWar: Crimea Under the Russian Missile Dome

A quick look into the latest Russian S-400 air-defense system deployment in Crimea

Left: (Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation); Right: (Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation).

The Russian military deployed a second battalion of S-400 “Triumph” air-defense systems in Crimean Peninsula. The first battalion was deployed to Crimea in Spring 2017, and now the military claimed to cover the whole Crimean Peninsula. These systems are capable of destroying aircraft, drones, and cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 400 kilometers.

@DFRLab took a deeper look into the latest changes of the security situation in the Crimean region.

On January 13, Russian media outlet TV Zvezda released a video, which reported the second S-400 “Triumph” (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) surface-to-air missile system (SAM) division (дивизион) — a close equivalent to a NATO battalion in size — deployed to Crimea. This S-400 unit could have up to ten TELs (Transporter Erector Launchers).

https://youtu.be/RQbge5JSkmw

The first batallion of the same weapons system was deployed in March 2017 near the port town of Feodosia. @DFRLab last year reported on these systems deployed to Russian military bases Severodvinsk in northern Russia and Khmeimim in eastern Syria.

Video reports provided by TV Zvezda, RT, and other Russian media outlets provided further details on this security development in the Russian occupied Crimean Peninsula.

The TV Zvezda video showed S-400 launchers, as each piece of equipment moved towards its battle station. The sea visible in the background and other details revealed the deployment location south of Sevastopol (pictured above).

Location of the S-400 SAM division deployment. (Source: GoogleMaps)
Location of the S-400 SAM division deployment. Left: (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo); Center: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo).

The battle stations of the S-400 SAMs coincided with the satellite imagery of the existing Russian military compound near Sevastopol.

Top Left: (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo); Bottom Left: (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo); Center: (Source: GoogleMaps); Top Right: (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo); Center Right: (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo); Bottom Left: (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo).

The video report released by RT further confirmed the location of the new weapons. A ceremony featured in RT’s reporting, in which Orthodox priests blessed Russian soldiers and the new equipment and took place in the northern part of the military compound.

Blessing ceremony of the soldiers and equipment. Top Left: (Source: YouTube / RT); Bottom Left: (Source: YouTube / RT); Center: (Source: GoogleMaps); Bottom Right: (Source: YouTube / RT).

On January 15, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) website released a statement that the new S-400 SAMs were put on combat alert in Sevastopol just two days after public disclosure of their location in Crimea. The same statement mentioned that S-400 system was put on alert in Feodosia in January 2017, but failed to mention any additional military buildup. This statement conflicted reports released by Reuters, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other media outlets. All of these reports stated that the deployment of first S-400 SAM battalion was in Feodosia in March 2017 and the second one in Sevastopol in January 2018, meanwhile the Russian MoD statement only mentioned the combat alertness of the units.

According to TASS, the most recent deployment of S-400 is part of the upgrade from the S-300PM surface-to-air missile systems that were stationed in Crimea since the occupation in 2014. Furthermore, a third S-400 battalion is expected to be deployed in Feodosia in 2018. All of the S-400 units in Crimea are under the leadership of the 4th Air and Air Defence Forces Army (4-я армия ВВС и ПВО).

S-400 SAMs south of Sevastopol. (Source: Twitter / @vezhlivo)

The S-400 Triumph air defense system integrated a multifunction radar, autonomous detection and targeting systems, anti-aircraft missile systems, TELs, and a command and control center. These systems are able to engage aerial targets within the maximum range of up to 400 kilometers and tactical ballistic targets up to 60 kilometers.

During the regiment deployment ceremony, Lieutenant General Viktor Sevostyanov proclaimed the whole Crimean region is now fully covered with Russia’s most advanced surface-to-air missile system (S-400). Based on analysis, in which @DFRLab matched the technical specifications of the S-400 to the overarching map of the region starting from Russian military base outside of Sevastopol, the system is able to cover territory well beyond the Crimean Peninsula. Lieutenant General Sevostyanov did not specify the S-400 measure far beyond the borders of Crimea into large portions of Southern Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and even most of the Black Sea territory.

S-400 SAM’s coverage in the Crimean region from the coast of Romania to Krasnodar Krai and from Dnepropetrovsk to the Coast of Turkey. (Source: GoogleMaps)

The latest development in the Crimean Peninsula’s continuous militarization of the was a significant addition to Russian capability in the region, but also served as a clear sign of the Kremlin’s geopolitical position. Increased defense showed clear intention to maintain and hold newly acquired territory, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Perhaps more troublesome, the S-400 SAM in Crimea also cover large chunks of the surrounding region not previously under the immediate umbrella of Russian missile defense.

@DFRLab will continue to monitor Russian military developments and exercises.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.